Breastfeeding Rates Poor Worldwide

Breastfeeding Rates Poor Worldwide Breastfeeding Rates Poor Worldwide

A major new series on breastfeeding, published in ‘The Lancet’ finds that despite strong health and economic benefits from breastfeeding, few children are exclusively breastfed until six months, as recommended by the WHO.

Globally, an estimated 1 in 3 infants under six months are exclusively breastfed – a rate that has not improved in two decades.

Breastfeeding has substantial benefits for women and children in rich and poor countries alike, and now the evidence is stronger than ever, WHO website reported.

New WHO estimates reveal that increasing breastfeeding to near-universal levels could save more than 800,000 lives every year, the majority being children under 6 months. In addition, nearly half of all diarrheal diseases and one-third of all respiratory infections in children in low- and middle-income countries could be prevented with increased rates of breastfeeding.

Children who are breastfeed perform better in intelligence tests, are less likely to be overweight or obese, and less prone to diabetes later in life. Mothers who breastfeed also reduce their risk of developing breast and ovarian cancers. At current breastfeeding rates, an estimated 20,000 deaths from breast cancer are prevented and an additional 20,000 could be saved if rates improved.

Beyond health, the new series presents a strong economic case for investing in promoting and protecting breastfeeding worldwide. The findings from WHO and partners estimate that global economic losses from lower cognition associated with not breastfeeding reached more than $300 billion in 2012, equivalent to 0.49% of the world’s gross national income.

Boosting breastfeeding rates for infants below six months of age to 90% in Brazil, China, and the US, and to 45% in the UK would cut treatment costs of common childhood illnesses, such as pneumonia, diarrhea and asthma, and save healthcare systems at least $2.45 billion in the US, $29.5 million in the UK, $223 million in China, and $6 million in Brazil.

Yet, worldwide low levels of optimal breastfeeding affect both high and low-income countries. Fewer than 1 in 5 infants are breastfed for 12 months in high-income countries and only 2 out of 3 children between 6 months and 2 years receive any breast milk in low and middle-income countries.

Although the World Health Assembly adopted the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes in 1981 to protect the public from inappropriate marketing strategies, it has been weakly enforced by countries. As a result, aggressive marketing of breast-milk substitutes is undermining efforts to improve breastfeeding rates, with global sales expected to reach $70.6 billion by 2019.

To address this issue, the Global Breastfeeding Advocacy Initiative, led by UNICEF and WHO, have created a Network for Global Monitoring and Support for Implementation of the International Code (NetCode) with the purpose of strengthening capacity for monitoring, adherence and implementation.

Countries also need to invest in policies and programs that support women’s breastfeeding.